After a few minutes, Raul Ruidiaz and Jordan Morris were comfy at home, again.
The Sounders FC forwards joined teammates Sunday in their first match at CenturyLink Field in sixth months due to Major League Soccer shutting down because of the coronavirus pandemic. It was a closed-door game, to help slow the spread of the virus, against the Los Angeles FC.
But in a familiar setting, the Sounders pulled off familiar goals to collect a 3-1 victory.
“We miss our fans but it was still nice to be back at home,” Morris said. “Obviously, we’ve never played here without fans before but when teams come here, this is our home stadium and we feel very confident here.”
Ruidiaz quickly jolted the mostly empty stadium with a powerful shot from deep that screamed over the head of LAFC keeper Kenneth Vermeer for an opening score in the 11th minute.
Morris kept the housewarming going with back-to-back goals in the second half. The scores were the best passing series of the match for the Sounders and display of footwork by Morris.
The first in the 48th minute was set up with a through ball by center back Shane O’Neill to midfielder Nico Lodeiro. The latter booted the ball ahead for Morris to chase down, the forward broke past two defenders to smack the ball into an empty net after Vermeer overplayed the attempt.
Seconds later, midfielder Joao Paulo sent a cross to Morris to softly tap into the goal for 3-0 lead in the 49th minute.
“They like to press high, so we were going to try to exploit that in this game,” Morris said. “When Nico gets the ball, I just run and nine times out of 10, he’s going to find me. So, he played a great ball in and I saw the goalie coming on and fortunately was able to take it on him and finish.
“The other goal was all Joao. He pressed high and you see the reward you get if you press high like that and win the ball.”
LAFC midfielder Diego Rossi had a goal in transition in the 60th minute. But neither the goal nor the summer rain that began to pour in the opening half could damper the Sounders’ homecoming.
The outcome was nearly a complete flip from the last time the clubs faced each other. In the MLS is Back tournament in Florida last month, LAFC took advantage of poor defensive play by the Sounders to defeat Seattle 4-1.
The defeat in Florida didn’t count toward the Sounders’ 2020 regular-season standings due to tournament competitions rules. The results Sunday do, keeping Seattle (4-1-2) in second place in MLS’s Western Conference. LAFC (2-2-3) is seventh.
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer didn’t make any lineup changes from the club’s last outing – a victory at Portland’s Providence Park. The decision was an unintended benefit from the players joining a pro sports-wide strike last week, not playing a road match against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Wednesday.
Five of MLS’s six games weren’t held that night in solidarity for the protests against the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The Sounders held a moment of silence and kneeled before the kickoff in honor of Blake, the Black Lives Matter movement and those who died due to the pandemic.
“It’s so tough to talk about, but we have to make the uncomfortable comfortable,” said Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan. “I’m really proud of the league and the Sounders for taking initiative in this movement.”
The Rave Green’s last match at CenturyLink Field was March 7. Restrictions to help slow the spread of COVID-19 had begun earlier that week, the Sounders drawing about 7,000 fewer fans than their MLS opener earlier in the week due to uncertainty about virus, many would later say.
In March, a thinned Supporter’s Group section still provided a lively backdrop to a 1-1 draw against the Columbus Crew SC.
For the return Sunday, the club used artificial crowd noise and used flags and banners to cover empty seats in the lower south-end of CenturyLink. Eastern-side seats were covered with tarps with sponsors’ names while two had “Vote” and “Vota” with a Power to the People fist in a colorful graphic created by Seattle-based artist Teddy “Stat” Phillips.
“I appreciated all of the signage down there and all of the flags,” Schmetzer said. “It was a nice touch. …The crowd noise in the background, I thought all of that was good. It’s just different without the fans. But for what we had to work with for what we’re dealing with this COVID-19, it was a good start.”
The only downside to Sunday’s match was losing Ruidiaz at halftime. He suffered a heel injury shortly before the break and was substituted by Will Bruin to open the second half as a precautionary measure.
Ruidiaz has scored five goals this season.
The Sounders have a quick turnaround with a match Wednesday against at Real Salt Lake. Seattle will be at CenturyLink again to host Portland next week.
“It’s great to have the full team at full power,” said Roldan as translated from Spanish by the Sounders. “We haven’t had Nico, Raul and Joao Paulo playing at the same time. Now that we have that, we need to keep focus and have everybody in good shape for the next games that are coming because Real Salt Lake is a great team. It’s going to be like a war.”
Sunday’s match between the Tacoma Defiance and Portland Timbers 2 was postponed due to a person within the Timbers 2 organization showing symptoms for COVID-19, according to a news release. USL Championship plans to reschedule the match.